The Foundation of Slave-Trading Networks between Cuba and Upper Guinea, 1808–20

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jorge Felipe Gonzalez, Michigan State University
Between 1790 and 1820, Cuban-based merchants transitioned from being passive importers of slaves to play a major role on the African coast as slave buyers. By 1789, when the Spanish king liberalized the human commerce for foreigners and nationals, Cuba lacked the infrastructure to undertake the Atlantic journey to acquire African captives. However, at the end of the legal Spanish slave trade in 1820, Cuban-based merchants had a large slave-ship fleet, trading outposts in Africa, an “army” of experts in the slave trade business (investors, insurers, captain, pilots), and slave-trading financial and political institutions. This paper explores one of the factors that made possible the creation of a Cuban-based Atlantic slave trade. How did Cuban-based merchants establish commercial networks on the African coast? After the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, I argue, slave traders from all over the Atlantic world, relocated their investments, technologies, and know-how to places where the human traffic was still legal such as Cuba. As a result, Cuban-based merchants inherited a set of slave-trading networks across the African coast. In particular, this paper focuses on the interaction between Americans and Cuban-based merchants. It shows how after 1808, a group of U.S. traders after relocating their investments in Havana, gradually transferred to their Cuban counterparts a set of slave-trading networks in some Upper Guinea’s regions such as Rio Pongo or Gallinas. These African outlets became major providers of slaves to the Island during the rest of the 19th century. There, Cuban-bases merchants established the first Spanish slave trade outposts in Africa.
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